From the textbook 发展汉语:高级口语(I) page 82 (image), we have the following:

菜单 (cài​dān):指列有各种菜肴的清单。现在指电脑程序进行中出现在显示屏上的选顶列表。

I'm curious as to what it's referring to in regards to 买单.

买单 (mǎi​dān)
CC-CEDICT: to pay the restaurant bill

Question: What is the textbook referring to about the etymology of 买单?

Google indicates a relationship between 买单 and 埋单:

埋单 (mái​dān)
CC-CEDICT: to pay the bill (in a restaurant etc) (loanword from Cantonese) / (fig.) to bear responsibility

So maybe 买单 is a variant of 埋单 which is a loanword of something from Cantonese. I don't really know.

  • 1
    I think you might already get your own answer. Baidu also suggests it's from 广东话.
    – dan
    Nov 21 '20 at 2:35
  • “埋單” has a wiki page in details, . . . in chinese 😹 zh.wikipedia.org/zh-hk/埋單 Nov 21 '20 at 2:36

In short, 買單 comes from 埋單 because Cantonese 埋 (tone 4, 陽平, contour 21 or 11) sounds very similar to Mandarin 買 (tone 3, 上聲, contour 214) where the ending rise isn't sounded when followed by 單.

Here Cantonese 埋 means to "settle", "finish off", or "draw near". E.g. 埋數 (finish off the numbers / do accounting), 埋位 (settle in to a seat), 埋口 (heal up an open wound).

The below are from references in Wikipedia 埋單, mentioned by @水巷孑蠻. Translations mine.

Lau Tin Chi (劉天賜)

Wen Wei Po 2003-02-08, "俗語趣談:埋單" (archived version)


Explanation: to pay a bill, to settle a bill [or score]; also popularly interpreted as [causing] death, finishing off. Nowadays in Mainland, Taiwan, etc., being gradually influenced by Hong Kong language [usage], "埋單" is also used to express paying of a bill. But the wrong word is used, it is thought to be "買單", and hardly known that "埋" is quintessence of Cantonese.

Dr Lam Kin Ping (林建平博士)

Archived version of CUHK 普通話速遞 No. 48, "衣食住行AA制"



"買單" sourced from "埋單"

"買單" mentioned in the text above is originally a Cantonese phrase, written "埋單". "埋" has the meaning of gathering, drawing close; 埋單 is to gather in the bills of expenses together for a final paying of the bill. Cantonese "埋單" and Mandarin "買單" have matching pronunciations: "埋" (mai) in Cantonese has lower level tone (light level) [i.e. tone 4], commonly held to have tone value 21; "買" (mai) read alone in Mandarin has falling-rising tone, but in the phrase "買單", is read in half-third-tone, tone value 211, quite a match with Cantonese lower level tone. Thus, "埋單" after entering Mandarin [usage], is mostly written "買單". One may say, Mandarin's "買單" has borrowed the pronunciation in Cantonese, then set up its own shop, creating the new phrase "買單".


Xiandai Hanyu Cidian (现代汉语词典, Modern Chinese Dictionary):
买单1 mǎidān: NOUN. A document in a financial market that serves as proof of purchase.
买单2 mǎidān: VERB, Dialect. See "埋单" in page 865.
埋单 máidān: VERB. Pay the bill after having meals in restaurants, referring to paying in general. Came from Cantonese, when introduced into the northern dialect area, it is often said as "买单".


买 = buy 单 = bill

Direct translate would be "buy the bill".

In general when we use the word 买单, we always say it to the waitress/waiter when we wanted to pay the bill in an restaurant. Not in any other shop, only in the restaurant we do that.

But when we really try to understand 买单, it is actually as it is translated directly, buy the bill! It literally means that "I want to buy that bill." Because back in the history when Chinese goes to a restaurant, usually we are eating dinner with friends or business partners, rather than regular dinner with family, and it is very polite to treat those who were invited to the dinner. So the "host" will use the word 买单, as to buy the bill, like literally, the bill will include all the expenses including food, drinks or sometimes dessert.

This is simply because Chinese were very poor, and don't usually eat at a restaurant, when they go to a restaurant, it's a big day, besides only a proper and decent restaurant will issue a bill to the customer, unlike any food stall at the street.

But in modern times, 买单 became a new word with a meaning of, paying the bill, regardless if we are eating with friends or family. However, we only use this word in a restaurant.



Ah, what were they thinking back then ... ??

埋 : 土: earth, ground, 里:in: 土 + 里 together: bury

單 : 口口 : cries, trouble + 甲 armour, protect + 一 one

Decomposition notes 字形分解说明 [?]: (- probably a sling, 田 is the pocket and rock and lower line is path of rock)

(- possibly a cicada, two big eyes and a body)

(- original 单蝉單蟬 chán)

(- some think it is a forked weapon of some kind)

Maybe: 埋单: bury (end) the trouble (pay the bill??)

Just a guess!

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